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New species of owl discovered in the rainforests of Príncipe Island, Central Africa


Tropibio researcher Martim Melo led the research that described a new species of owl from Príncipe Island, Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe.

A new species of owl has just been described from Príncipe Island, part of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe in Central Africa. Scientists were first able to confirm its presence in 2016, although suspicions of its occurrence gained traction from 1998, and testimonies from local people suggesting its existence could be traced back as far as 1928.  The team was composed by Martim Melo, Bárbara Freitas, Angelica Crottini, Philippe Verbelen, Sátiro R. da Costa, Hugo Pereira,  Jêrôme Fuchs, George Sangster, Marco Correia, and Ricardo Faustino de Lima. 

The Principe Scops-Owl, the eighth known bird species endemic to the island, has a unique call, and lives in a very restricted range within the Príncipe Obô Natural Park.  The new owl species was described in the open-access journal ZooKeys based on multiple lines of evidence such as morphology, plumage colour and pattern, vocalisations, and genetics. The bird is now officially known as the Principe Scops-Owl, or Otus bikegila.

The entire Principe Island was extensively surveyed to determine the distribution and population size of the new species. Results, that are published in the journal Bird Conservation International, show that the Principe Scops-Owl is found only in the remaining old-growth native forest of Príncipe in the uninhabited southern part of the island. There, it occupies an area of about 15 km2, apparently due to a preference for lower elevations. In this small area (about four times the size of Central Park), the densities of the owl are relatively high, with the population estimated at around 1000-1500 individuals. Nevertheless, because all individuals of the species occur in this single and very small location, researchers recommend that this newly described species be listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. A monitoring protocol was designed and successfully tested; it consists of the deployment of automatic recording units followed by the use of AI to analyse thousands of hours of recordings quickly.

Otus bikegila (photo by Philippe_Verbelen)

Melo M, Freitas B, Verbelen P, da Costa SR, Pereira H, Fuchs J, Sangster G, Correia MN, de Lima RF, Crottini A (2022) A new species of scops-owl (Aves, Strigiformes, Strigidae, Otus) from Príncipe Island (Gulf of Guinea, Africa) and novel insights into the systematic affinities within Otus. ZooKeys 1126: 1-54. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1126.87635

Freitas B, Melo M, Do Bom Jesus C, Da Costa S, Dos Santos Y, Crottini A & De Lima R. (2022). The recently discovered Principe Scops-owl is highly threatened: Distribution, habitat associations, and population estimates. Bird Conservation International, 1-10. doi:10.1017/S0959270922000429

Freitas B, Bas Y, Robert A, Doutrelant C & Melo M. (2022, October 31). Passive Acoustic Monitoring in difficult terrains: the case of the Principe Scops-Owl. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/mfubj Preprint DOI.

Otus bikegila (artwork by Marco_Correia).

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